Profit with Purpose: In exclusive conversation with Dr. Shalini Sarin | #WomenAndEnergy

About the #WomenAndEnergy Interview Series

The #WomenAndEnergy interview series is a collaboration between AEEE and South Asia Women in Energy (SAWIE), that focuses on from women leaders in the energy and climate space, who through their journeys and experiences will narrate their opinions and views on some of the pressing issues in today’s time, through a gender lens. These interviews are broadly themed around energy efficiency, climate change, women’s representation in the climate and energy sector, India’s energy transition trajectory, and global climate change crisis and potential solutions.

We kick off this series with our interview with Dr. Shalini Sarin (Chairperson, SAWIE).

Q1. According to you, what is the biggest challenge women face in the energy sector, especially in the context of India?

The biggest challenge in the energy sector for women is to be seen beyond the household. Thus their limited participation in genartion and consumption of energy. Their voice needs to be heard on both sides. Cultural and social norms often make it difficult for women to engage fully in the economic and political spheres.

The  gender  division  of labour  results  in  women  allotting a  significant  amount  of  their  time to  household  work, childcare and  elderly  care,  and consequently having limited skills  and  time  to  engage  in  formal, paid  activities  that predominantly employ men. In some cases, women spend several hours cooking with inefficient stoves, leaving them less time to pursue other economic, family or leisure activities.

Women also tend to have  less  access to  information,  skills,  training  and labour  markets,  while  facing  greater risks of violence. This influences their  decision-making  power  and exercise  of  voice  and  agency,  and constrains their access to land and productive  resources,  technology  and information, and education and health services.

Power  hierarchies  strongly  influence women’s ability to participate in  energy  access  programmes. As an example, women are often disadvantaged in gaining access to energy by the fact that men typically make the purchasing decisions within the household. Since kerosene, diesel and other fossil fuels tend to be expensive, men are often more willing  to  purchase  or  seek  financing for technologies such as solar lighting systems that can save money and are perceived to be beneficial for the entire family than technologies such as clean cookstoves that reduce women’s drudgery and “time poverty”.

Q2. Could you please share your thoughts on decoding the energy sector with a gender lens.?

As  primary  users  of  energy  in the household, women’s direct engagement  in  renewable  energy projects is critical to ensuring that the projects have a positive impact and are widely used and accepted by their  intended  beneficiaries. Energy is not limited to household needs (cooking, home lighting , heting and refrigeration) but goes far and beyond including distributed energy generation and stored energy usage for mobility. Women are constrained to fulfilment of household  energy needs and hence a big chuck of the Energy sector remains relatively distant from their reach.

It is important to emphasise  that women are significantly impacted due to limited access to Light, resulting in issues of safety. Building an eco system of technologies, solutions and product options which use cheap, distributed and self managed Ligthing will make women self sufficient and more productive.

Q3. As a woman leader in the Indian energy space, how have things changed, or not, since you began your career? 

A lot has changed for the better from time I started my career. Firstly, Consumption patterns have changed from fire wood to gas stoves, freeing up time for the woman to engage in other activities and improving health conditions.

In the eearly days energy generation was largely limited to  Coal fired Thermal Power plants whichwere located far away from the city and transport was a huge issue. This in itself became a massive limitation for women to be involved in any tangible way with suh projects. With the entry of renewables and decentralization and focus on gender inclusion, perceptions of managers too have changed and this will only get better. Digitization and access to education and skills is the key to unlock this challenge.

Women have now been involved in a significant way in Systems engineering for solar plants, cells designing for renewables, analytics for automation and operational energy improvement, remote management of physical infra structure to manage and monitor the deployed systems. The largest number of energy auditors are women. Women are also playing a key role in electric mobility, such as design of battery and the EV platform and setup of Charging Infrastructure.

Q4. Sustainable, responsible business is the way forward. Can you please comment on how this can help with profit maximisation and be leveraged to accelerate India’s clean energy transition?

Responsible business is founded on Design for Circularity, recycling, reuse and waste management. This becomes sustainable once there is economic value and financial viability of each of these value streams.

Capacity building along the offgrid renewable energy value chain is vital for long-term operation and sustainability of the systems, and project proponents often recognise the value of engaging local capacity and investing in skills development. These skills range from the technical involving installation, operation and maintenance to business-related including accounting, bookkeeping, product design and pricing, and business plan design.

Q5. Investment in and commitment to clean energy has been the talk of the town, globally. What opportunities do you think this holds for start-ups in India?
Start-ups are good at building new technology that supports energy generation, consumption build automation , create layers of analytics and logistics for waste managemt. It is well understood that Developmemt of technology is largely software based hence penny start ups can also invest and start businesses as they do not require heavy machinery, plant or equipmemt.

Logistics automation feeds into supporting operational efficiencies for renewable energy generation projects, transmission, , distributin and storage. With infratsructire setup in a distributed format such as for Smart Cities – Remote management of different systems interlinked through cloud based solutions sensors yield Machine to machine engagement. All this is well within domain expertise of Indian startups.

Access to energy, energy efficiency and EV has a huge potential in the entire value chain, whether innovation or product features of distribution and supply chain or finanicing or end of life management. There are several Indian startups in these areas that have germinated from very small shoe string budgets into Unicornns

Q6. What is that one career advice that helped you reach where you are today?
Three key messages that I would like to leave for the young women are:

  • Do not create boundaries around yourself of working within your job description, or basis your past experience or qualification. Do not hesitate to expand and experiment with yourself. The more you push the envelope, that wider is the landscape. You will keep positively surprising yourself with your abilities and effort. Do not under estimate yourself.
  • Do not stop learning. Invest in life long learning. Learning not only keeps you ahead of others and updated but also gives you more confidence, keeps you young and gives energy and enables growth.
  • Insulate yourself from bad news carrier. Be a good news career. Build relationships. Get a mentor and a sounding board. Build your networking skills and reach out.

This interview was facilitated and compiled by Radhika Israni from Alliance for an Energy Efficiency.

Enquire now

Give us a call or fill in the form below and we will contact you. We endeavor to answer all inquiries within 24 hours on business days.